Thursday 29 December 2011

GfGD Archive: In The News 2011

As 2011 comes to an end, here is a link to some of the geology related articles that have been in the news over the past year. There are articles about landsliding, mining and other geohazards. Notably in the news this year was the tragic earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan in March, a serious earthquake in Turkey and the famine in East Africa. The famine is still ongoing, and there is huge need in the region. As we remember the many that have died over the past year, we also acknowledge the dedication, hard work and courage of humanitarian and development workers in many difficult areas that have been using their skills to improve the lives of many communities across the world.  

Tuesday 27 December 2011

GfGD Archive: Photos from Tanzania

This time last year I'd just got back from Tanzania, where I was working on a small-scale water programme. Over the past year we've published a number of photos relating to the geology and water resources in the Kagera Region of Tanzania, where I was based.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Merry Christmas from GfGD's Director

A Ugandan Christmas (2009)
As this year draws to an end, we are very grateful to all our readers and supporters for their encouragement, contributions and ideas. This blog started back in February, and to date we have published over 120 blogs on subjects including hydrogeology, geohazards, climate change, higher education, mining and much much more. We have had some excellent quality guest blogs from students and professionals - and hope to have many more of these in 2012.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be taking a Christmas break and I will be posting links to some of my favourite posts from the past year. This is a great opportunity to catch up on posts you've not managed to read yet, or older posts from our archives that were written before you found the GfGD blog.

Thanks again for your contributions and taking the time to read this blog, we look forward to inspiring, informing and learning from all of you in the New Year. 

Have a very happy Christmas,
Joel Gill
(Director, Geology for Global Development)  

Friday 16 December 2011

Friday Photo (13) - Strengthening Geoscience at Kabul University (3)

The photo below, courtesy of the University of Leicester, was taken at the Strengthening Higher Education in Kabul Conference in December 2011. The photo shows the delegates, including representatives from Afghanistan (Kabul University), National Centre for Excellence in Geology (Peshawar University), Kurdistan Iraq, British Council, USA, Czech Republic, University of Leicester and of course, Geology for Global Development.

(c) University of Leicester, used with permission.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Job Opportunities

Many of you may be interested in a number of jobs the British Geological Survey (BGS) are advertising on their website. These jobs include jobs in engineering geology (landslides and subsidence), volcanology and many other fields. The BGS have an excellent reputation for their work in overseas development.

Another good place to look for job and PhD opportunities is through the earthworks website, which often has vacancies in a range of fields, across the world. 

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Strengthening Geoscience at Kabul University (2)

As I mentioned in a post last week, I was recently taking part in a workshop at the University of Leicester which focused on institutional strengthening of Kabul University (Afghanistan) and other universities in the surrounding region, with a particular focus on geosciences. Through many conversations, discussions and presentations I learnt a tremendous amount over the few days about the geography and geology of this region, the rich history and culture of the nation and the situation with regards to higher education.

Despite higher education in Afghanistan facing huge challenges (as outlined below) it has a huge role to play in nation building, with the potential for it driving significant social and economic development. Universities generate knowledge through research, which can bring enormous benefits to various aspects of society. A university can also act as a peace builder – bringing together different ethnicities and backgrounds and fostering dialogue, collaboration and peace. Graduates from the university go on to positions within government departments and politics itself, and thus universities can also develop and encourage good leadership.

Higher Education in Afghanistan

Chancellor of Kabul University, Professor Amin speaking at
an event earlier this year.
In Afghanistan, there are currently around 100,000 university places spread across public (26 universities, 80,000 students) and private (54 universities, 20,000 students) universities. Kabul University is one of the largest universities, with around 1 in 5 of all students attending there. They have 75 departments ranging from Geology and Environmental Protection and Disaster Management, to languages, journalism and law. Their budget and the percentage of national GDP they get is extremely low, and public institutions (according to the constitution) are not allowed to charge students for education up to and including Bachelors Level Degrees. For each student, universities are given $1 per day, which equates to roughly £200 a year. Educating a student in the UK with a university education can cost in excess of £10,000, over 50 times as much. Demand is growing for the 100,000 places, with projections expecting around 1,000,000 people to be applying for places in the next few years – meaning without expansion and development of capacity, universities will only accept 1 in 10 of those wanting a university education. This is likely to be a huge social problem in the future, as is the potential lack of jobs for university graduates, should the sector be expanded. Other challenges Kabul University (and others) face include lack of equipment, infrastructure, resources and well-qualified teaching staff.

The Faculty of Geoscience

One faculty which is likely to see an increase in demand, and also an abundance of jobs for the graduates is the Faculty of Geoscience, incorporating departments of Geology, Geography, Hydro-Meteorology and Environmental Protection and Disaster Management. All of these departments provide much needed graduates for government agencies, industry and NGOs.


Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, ranging from precious stones (lapis lazuli) to precious metals (gold) to industrial metals (iron, copper). These resources offer Afghanistan a huge opportunity for economic development, and offer geoscience graduates an income and career. The development of good practice, good management and employing well qualified environmental protection specialists also means Afghanistan can develop a good reputation for their sustainable mining. Geoscientists are also fundamental to locating and protecting water resources, building resilience to natural hazards (the region is affected by earthquakes, landslides, floods, droughts and intense winds), and engineering geology – developing new and long lasting infrastructure.

It was great to have the opportunity over the couple of days I was involved in this conference to hear about the Faculty of Geoscience, and opportunities for developing geological knowledge and skills in this remarkable part of the world. I shared about Geology for Global Development, and there was interest in perhaps turning this into an international initiative, with national groups in other countries – although this will be at some point in the future. When in the future, however, depends on how we grow and develop over these coming years. Listening to the challenges and needs of communities in this country blighted by conflict for so many years, and the positive role geoscience can play in rebuilding and strengthening the country, has made me more determined than ever to see GfGD successfully expand and develop, and play our role in fighting poverty and improving the lives of many.

Friday 9 December 2011

Friday Photo (12) - Seismogram of M6.6 Earthquake, Western Xizang, China (25th August 2008)

A screenshot of a seismogram from the M6.6 earthquake in Western Xizang, China (August 2008). The sesimometer from which the above image was captured is part of the British Geological Survey's School Seismometer program, and was installed by the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, UK.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Strengthening Geoscience at Kabul University (1)

Tomorrow I join with a number of others in Leicester for a workshop, "Strengthening Geoscience at Kabul University - Shared Experiences from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, UK Germany and the Czech Republic".

I am grateful to Prof. Mike Petterson, one of GfGD's advisors and Head of Economic and Environmental Geosciences at the University of Leicester for the opportunity to join their talks and give a short presentation on Friday about Geology for Global Development, our vision, aims and work.

Look out next week for more on this event, with discussions on the importance of building technical capacity and supporting universities in developing countries.

Monday 5 December 2011

Guest Blog - The Importance of Groundwater Monitoring

The latest in our series of guest blogs is an article on the importance of groundwater monitoring, written by Richard Boak, an independent hydrogeologist. Richard has over 30 years of hydrogeological experience, and has done much of his work internationaly with a strong focus on Africa.  

"I attended the launch in London recently of a joint publication from the Institution of Civil Engineers, Oxfam GB and WaterAid entitled “Managing Water Locally”, which encourages water resource management to take place at local or community level. I was very pleased to see that the report also emphasises the importance of long-term monitoring of key parameters such as rainfall, groundwater levels and water abstraction. This is a subject close to my heart – I’ve lost count of the number of times in my career that I’ve wished that basic monitoring data were available. When called in to advise on why groundwater levels are falling, why a well has dried up, or how deep should a new borehole be drilled, then several obvious questions raise themselves. What is the normal seasonal behaviour of the groundwater levels in this area? How often does the well dry up? What are the highest and lowest groundwater levels that have been observed? What is the typical difference between the rest water level and the pumping water level, for different pumping rates? Has the pattern of groundwater abstraction changed recently (increased consumption, for example, or new abstractions elsewhere exploiting the same aquifer)? All of these questions can be answered fairly easily with some good monitoring data, and the longer the data record, the better. Without this information, we are working in the dark, and the risk of a groundwater source failing to live up to expectations rises enormously.

So please, if you are involved in planning a new water supply scheme, or rehabilitating an existing groundwater source, start collecting data now (to paraphrase the proverb: the best time to start monitoring groundwater is twenty years ago; the second-best time is now). Make sure you include access for monitoring equipment in the design of headworks for boreholes and wells (this is not complicated, and is usually as simple as a well-placed hole with removable cover). Involve the local community in collection of data, and ensure that people are trained and equipped to continue monitoring after you drive away. Run some simple quality-control checks on the data before archiving. Use the data, so that you and your successors gain an understanding of how the groundwater system is behaving. Of course, groundwater monitoring is not without its pitfalls, and bad data can be worse than no data. If you’re unsure, get advice from an experienced hydrogeologist on where, what, how and when (how often) to monitor."

Richard has also recently authored a fascinating account of Richard Thornton, a geologist who accompanied David Livingstone on his explorations of Africa, which many of you may be interested in reading.

Friday 2 December 2011

Friday Photo (11) - World Walks for Water March 2011

Former International Development Secretary and Current Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, takes part in the Westminster Walks for Water event in London. MPs and Ministers from across the political divide came together to hear about the importance of clean water and safe sanitation. 
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 30 November 2011

In the News: Central and Latin America

The BBC have a number of very interesting stories on their news website relating to Central and South America, with three out of four of them related to legal and illegal gold mining:

NICARAGUA: How rainwater harvesting is helping Nicaraguan farmers... The construction of small earth dams to collect and store rainwater in the wet season is having significant benefits to crop-growers.

GUYANA: How Guyana gold mining threatens its green future... the conflicting prioritisation between economic growth and environmental protection.

PERU: Peru protests at huge Conga gold mine in Cajamarca... Concerns over water and envionmental pollution lead to protests in Peru over potentially lucrative gold mining, despite assurances by the company that they will meet strict environmental procedures and construct modern sustainable reservoirs for local communities.

COLUMBIA: Illegal gold rush sees Colombia's drug barons cash in... The high price of golf means armed drugs gangs are trying to influence and develop illegal mines in Columbia.

Monday 28 November 2011

GfGD Careers Page

GfGD have a new page on their main website entitled 'Careers' which aims to support geoscience students in the UK to explore options for life after undergraduate courses. The careers page, which will be expanded and developed over time, will give information about possible MSc courses, career profiles and link to any interesting jobs we see advertised.

Last week GfGD uploaded a PDF Information Sheet onto the website with links to a number of MSc courses along the broad theme of 'Hazards, Risk and Disaster Management.' Over the next couple of weeks more of these information sheets will be attached to this page, related to other broad themes (such as hydrogeology, water management and water for developing countries; engineering geology and geotechnics).

For those thinking of studying for an MSc as their next step - it is worth spending some time in the near future looking at websites, getting more information and making applications. Funding is currently not easy to obtain, but many universities do have some general scholarships you can apply to (often awarded on academic merit). Deadlines for these can be fairly early on in the academic year, so spend some time researching soon.

We're also very interested to hear from anybody who has done an MSc, and would like to write a brief review/outline for the blog.

Friday 25 November 2011

Friday Photo (10) - Small-Scale Mining (Tanzania)

We are well into our Friday Photo series, highlighting the work of geologists and the impacts of their work. Don't forget - if you have a photo you want to share - contact GfGD.

A small scale working of fairly high quality fine-grained sand

(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Country Focus: Democratic Republic of Congo

This month, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are holding general elections for only the second time in around forty years. This huge country, around two thirds the size of western Europe, has been in the news for many reasons in recent years - mainly as a result of the conflict and civil war. It borders with several other countries, including Rwanda. Much of the tensions, fighting and genocide in this country have spilled over into the DRC, making increasing and contributing to their problems. The country's significant mineral resources have contributed to this conflict - with groups of militia fighting for control over resources such as diamonds, coltan, copper and gold. 

The inability of the government to establish law and order and fight corruption means they have not harnessed the wealth of the country's vast resources for the benefit of the nation - improving healthcare, education and infrastructure. This has contributed to the country having a life expectancy more than 20 years below the world's average, infant mortality more than two and half times greater than the rest of the world and an adult literacy rate well above the global average.

Source: Cai Tjeenk Willink
Adding to the problems of the country are the natural hazards that the country face. In 2002, for example, a volcanic eruption close to the town of Goma killed dozens of people and associated earthquakes caused further damage. Floods, droughts and landslides are also relevant hazards.

The BBC News have a very helpful article discussing the DRC on their website. One quote within the article that stands out particularly, and which is worth reflecting on:
"While DR Congo is clearly a failed state, Congolese society has not failed. On the contrary it is strong, vibrant, dynamic, tolerant and generous. People have a sense of taking charge of their own destinies."

Monday 21 November 2011

Resources: Southern African Development Community (SADC) Groundwater Literature

I recently stumbled across quite an amazing archive of literature relating to groundwater resources in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), hosted by the British Geological Survey. This archive of 'grey literature' contains reports, data and maps from across the past century. It is all available to download free of charge, and is a great resource for those wanting background information on previous work carried out in these nations.  

Information exists for the following countries/regions:

Friday 18 November 2011

Friday Photo (9) - Rocks Down The Microscope

Somebody asked me recently what a rock looks like down a microscope, and so today's Friday Photo explores this. Below is an image of an igneous rock known as andesite, that forms when a certain type of lava soldifies, and some images of a felsic dyke (formed when acidic magma, the name for molten rock below ground or that has not been erupted, solidifies). Both of these rocks were found in the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile.

Andesite, seen under cross-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm) 
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Felsitic dyke material, seen under plane-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm)
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011
Felsitic dyke material, seen under cross-polarised light (field of view = 4.4mm)
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Archive: Diamonds in Zimbabwe

GfGD have written a series of posts about the controversial decision by the Kimberley Process to allow diamonds to be sold from the Marange fields of Zimbabwe. You can read our full series of posts here.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Nyamuragira Volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo

This video, from the Guardian Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather page, highlights the growing activity of the Nyamuragira Volcano in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). You can find more recent footage of the eruption, which volcanologists believe is not a threat to the local population or gorilla community on the BBC website.

Monday 14 November 2011

Guest Blog - Attachment with the Geological Survey of the Solomon Islands

This week we have a very interesting guest blog written by Laura Rose Wilson, a geologist at Leicester University, who spent time with another geologist from Leicester  working with the Geological Survey in the Solomon Islands.

"During the summer (2011) I worked in the Solomon Islands for 5 weeks with a friend, Sarah, as an attachment to the Solomon Islands Geological Survey.

The Survey, based in Honiara on Guadalcanal Island, is very basic, with intermittent electricity. The book cases and drawers full of maps and years of work on the Solomon Islands are very old, mixed up and poorly looked after. The rock sample store is falling down and many of the sample locations are missing. This is all a result of lack of staff, money and government input.

My work involved research on both Simbo volcano and the 2007 tsunami which affected the western province. Simbo volcano is in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and is inhabited by approximately 1400 people. It is unknown whether this volcano is extinct or dormant and has had very little research carried out on it.  It was my job to research and collate as much data as possible in order to put together a hazard assessment of Simbo and bring the potential hazard to people’s attention. I found a lot of work had been started on hazard and disaster management, especially since the 2007 tsunami, however, this work does not progress fast, nor does a lot of it get finished. It is also very difficult to educate local people on potential disasters due to clashes with science and religion.

Sarah on the other hand did work towards establishing the uplift rate of the coral reefs on which Honiara is built and the surrounding hills. Sarah headed out into the field to examine the terraces and note their thickness and fossil content as well as bringing samples back to the office ready for sending to the UK for analysis.

The work ethic in the Solomon Islands is very laissez faire; when the electricity is on, computer games is often their pastime; when the electricity is off the staff head in to the run down, busy town centre. I therefore believe being there on an attachment was as beneficial to them as it was to us as it showed them a different work ethic; when we needed some information or a particular report, we made sure they would get it to us by the next day rather than 3 weeks later – this didn’t always work out though. We quickly developed patience as a key survival strategy.

Whilst working for the Survey we were allocated a member of staff to work with us as a counterpart. John Tuga from the island of Malaita (the most populous of the Solomon Islands) was assigned to help us out should we need it. This was very valuable to him as he was only an assistant geologist learning A-level standard Geology through a course with the Solomon Islands sector of the University of Papua New Guinea (PNG).  John hopes to go to the University of PNG in the next academic year to attain a degree in geology therefore our presence and knowledge gave him a head start. We taught him skills in the field such as rock recognition and description, recording and measuring key observations etc., as well as leaving him with geological books, dictionaries and charts which had been of use to us in the first few years of our degree and are not available to students out there. He showed a real interest and thirst for knowledge and was one of the few people there who was really dedicated to proving not all Solomon Islanders sit around day to day.
Throughout our stay in the Solomon’s we stayed with a local family in a small village outside of the town. This was a very interesting experience and we learnt about their way of life, which was much simpler than an average ‘Western’ household. The toilet and shower was outdoors and exposed and the kitchen was small with the food being cooked over hot stones. The daily meal was rice and cabbage with the rare treat of tuna or chicken. We were also very lucky being only one of two houses in the village to have electricity for a couple of hours each night. The family were very welcoming and the children were extremely excited and interested to see us.  They told us we were the first ever white people to come to their village. We learnt their traditions in exchange for helping some of the family members to improve their English.

Overall, as well as getting a lot from this trip for our own benefit and studies I feel we were also a great help to the staff at the Survey. We brought them new ways of thinking and an idea of how we work in England. The work we are doing will also give the Survey a head start on this research so that they can continue to develop and improve their knowledge in the future.

I believe attachments such as this are very important to share geological knowledge around the world and especially to the third world countries so that they can then continue the work themselves."

Friday 11 November 2011

Friday Photo (8) - Geotourism (Chile)

Many come to this location in Chile each year to watch the sunset over this dynamic landscape
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Don't forget, if you have a photo you'd like to share with our readers for Friday Photo then get in touch by e-mail! 

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Resources: EGU Open-Access Journals

The European Geosciences Union has a number of open-access journals on their website, that may be of interest to readers. Of particular interest may be the Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences journal and the Hydrology and Earth System Sciences journal although there are a number of others.

Monday 7 November 2011

GfGD University Groups - Introducing GfGD Cambridge

As mentioned in previous posts, we are working to establish GfGD groups across UK universities, to raise the profile of development within the geoscience community. GfGD university groups are ‘mutual interest groups’ gathering people with a shared interest and commitment in using their geoscience knowledge and skills to fight poverty and improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.

Tim Middleton,
GfGD Ambassador (Cambridge)
These groups, led by one or two GfGD Ambassadors, will be at the centre of GfGD’s work, vision and objectives. Through seminars, discussion groups, assisting in producing resources and other activities these university communities will inspire, inform and engage many geologists with the importance of their work to sustainable international development.    

Claire Fyson
GfGD Ambassador, Cambridge
I am delighted that Cambridge is hosting our first university group – led by the very capable and enthusiastic Tim Middleton and Claire Fyson (both fourth year students in the Department of Earth Sciences). You can read more about the group in Cambridge and the Ambassadorsleading the work on our website – if you are a geographer, geotechnical engineer or geologist in Cambridge then why not get in touch and see what events theyare planning!

If you are based in a UK university and interested in establishing a GfGD group then please do get in touch with our Director, using the form on our website. Don't forget you can also download and print a GfGD poster for your university department notice board.

Friday 4 November 2011

Friday Photo (7) - Applied Geological Mapping

Analysing exposures of rock to determine the likelihood of drilling into water-bearing units.
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Listening, Communicating and Diplomacy - The Importance of Geologists Developing Soft Skills for Effective Development

Last week I was at a very interesting seminar at King’s College London, given by Dr Katie Oven of Durham University. She spoke about her PhD work, building resilience to geophysical hazards in rural areas, particularly looking at landslide prone areas in Nepal.

One of the key issues to come out of the seminar was the balance between community participation and expert knowledge. When should discussions with communities about, for example, where to place a road stop and the expert judgement of engineering geologists begin? It seems this is a very difficult but important balance. In the case outlined above, the Engineering Geologist has an important understanding of many of the challenges in determining a road route. From the rock mass quality, to groundwater and drainage questions, to issues of slope stability – their knowledge and study when correctly applied can help increase the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the project.

In the same manner, however, local communities must also be consulted and heavily involved at all stages of the project. They have understanding of local issues, cultural practices, high risk areas and the quality of local materials that is very useful to the geological and engineering teams. An expert working closely with the community can learn a lot, and also impart knowledge and understanding that will help the community.
Whilst working on water projects I came across many similar issues. Local water engineers would want to use divining methods to assess for the potential of water, whilst my western mind-set would find this very difficult to accept. We would also have to work closely with the wider community in order to understand their problems with water, and encourage a sense of community-led demand for clean water. Without this approach water projects were failing as the community felt no sense of ownership or responsibility for them. Somebody had come and talked to a couple of people (normally to a couple of the men – who don’t normally collect the water anyway!) and then put a well in. They had then left with no training or support for the community in how to manage and maintain their water source.

It seems to me that these two examples highlight that geologists wishing to work on successful, effective and sustainable development projects need to work on a number of ‘soft’ key skills as well their more well-practiced ‘hard’ skills (such as hammering rock, measuring dip and strikes and mapping landslides)!
LISTENING: It is essential that geologists learn to listen to what communities are telling them – ensuring that they get the opportunity to explain their needs, thoughts and opinions about projects. Geologists should try and listen to as wide variety of people as possible, especially remembering particularly vulnerable groups (such as women, children, the elderly and disabled). This listening exercise should be (i) genuine, not just a token, ticked that box thing; (ii) active – researching culture, customs and aspects of language to understand more fully what you are being told and what you see.
COMMUNICATION: Geologists need to learn to communicate clearly – explaining their ideas simply but effectively. Their communication needs to respond to what they have heard from the community and local authorities, it needs to encourage and strengthen the community’s sense of involvement and ownership of the project.
CREATIVITY & DIPLOMACY: In terms of the balance between involvement and expert knowledge, I believe those involved in projects where these can conflict need to work to present feasible options to communities and get their input on where to proceed. There is a strong need for creativity in presenting ideas in order to win communities over, whilst also having the humility and listening skills to genuinely accept that the communities knowledge can help develop and improve a project.
It would be very interesting to hear of any other thoughts about certain ‘soft skills’ that geologists require for working on development projects? Also I’d very much recommend a paper written by Mike Petterson et al (2008), Communicating Geoscience to Indigineous People: Examples from the Solomon Islands – which is available in the Geological Society (London) Special Publication on Communicating Environmental Geoscience (Ed. Liverman, Pereira and Marker). This paper looks at best practice for communicating geoscience knowledge relating from gold mining to volcanic hazards, and draws out many helpful points.  

Monday 31 October 2011

Discounted Subscription - Nature Geoscience

You can currently (until the 15th November) get a personal annual subscribtion to Nature Geosciences for £12 (inc VAT). Covering topics from seismlogy to volcanology, remote sensing to geochemistry - an article published in this journal is highly sought after by many academics. The cost also includes online access to all previous journal articles. At £70 normal cost, the discount is significant. The current issue has an editorial focusing on 'Beyond Mining,' an exchange of letters on aquifer arsenic sources, and an article on how mantle convection is driving topographical change in Africa. Get your discounted subscription here...

Friday 28 October 2011

Friday Photo (6) - Geotourism (Uganda)

In many countries, geological and geographical features such as waterfalls, canyons, mountains and volcanoes attract tourists and photographers - generating income for the local community. It is important that sustainability and conservation are considered.
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 26 October 2011

M7.2 Earthquake Eastern Turkey (2)

The Earthquake Report have produced a helpful analysis and discussion of various aspects of the earthquake in eastern Turkey. The report written by the Centre for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology (CEDIM) estimates the final death toll to be between 700-1000 people, and economic losses of US$ 500-1000million. Read the full article here... 

Monday 24 October 2011

Postgraduate Courses: Engineering Geology

Over the coming months we will be trying to review a range of postgraduate 'MSc' courses that offer interesting options for geologists interested in applying their skills to development situations. The first looks at 'Engineering Geology' with a particular focus on the course offered at the University of Leeds (due to the author's experience). Similar courses can be found at Portsmouth University, Imperial College and Newcastle University. 

After studying a lot about the thermodynamics of metamorphism, whether the mantle convects in one or two layers and how water is recycled at subduction zones - I decided I wanted to pursue a more practical focused geoscience Masters course. After doing some research I decided to study for the MSc Engineering Geology course at the University of Leeds in their School of the Earth and Environment.

The Course
The course was very wide ranging (one of its great appeals), covering many aspects of geoscience, with modules in soil mechanics, rock mechanics, engineering geology and site investigation, hydrogeology and contaminated land, and advanced engineering geology (inc. analysis of geohazards). I therefore got a wide range of subject matter – from groundwater to design of foundations, tunnelling to landslides, earthquake engineering to ground investigation. The course has since developed, with the advanced engineering geology module now called ‘hazards, resilience and sustainable engineering’. This offers an exciting opportunity for students to grapple with some of the issues facing geologists tasked with building resilience and promoting sustainablity. 

The course was well taught and structured – with contributions from those with an engineering background, as well as a geoscience background. Site visits, laboratory exercises, fieldwork and seminars from those in industry contributed to a wide range of teaching environments. Each student is expected to complete a dissertation project, which accounts for around a third of their overall mark. The project gives you an opportunity to focus in on a particular area of interest, or potentially work with a company/consultant that interests you. The department has some excellent industrial links, and has had a number of very creative dissertation projects in the past. From roads in Ethiopia, to seismic hazard at a dam site in Albania to artificial ground in Glasgow (the latter being the less glamorous project I had to endure).
Prospects for those interested in a career within development

Although there wasn’t a lot of mention of its applications to international development, and the majority of people on this course will go on to work in UK-based roles, a lot of the skills developed can be applied and used in development situations. A number of large consultancies use engineering geologists for major projects they are doing in developing countries. The basics of hydrogeology taught within the course are possibly sufficient to transition into a career within ‘water and sanitation’ – although further reading into a number of aspects of community development and appropriate technologies would need to be undertaken. A career in geohazard assessment is also an option (having covered many aspects of slope stability, mass movements and earthquake engineering). The academic rigour of the course established you well for further postgraduate study – with the potential to undertake a PhD in a range of subjects.

Strengths: Broad and relevant subject knowledge; highly regarded course; good opportunities; opportunity to focus within your dissertation; opportunity to engage with issues of risk, resilience and sustainable engineering; well resourced department, library and university.
Weaknesses: Currently no overseas fieldwork unless you’re lucky enough to get your dissertation overseas (this may be changing soon); little funding support (NERC have recently withdrawn their sponsorship; not enough opportunities to get experience with relevant IT software (only limited use of ArcGIS)

Overall: An interesting and informative course that gives you a great skill set. For those interested in a career working within developing countries (for some or all of the year) this course can lead to a number of opportunities.
Please do get in contact with any questions you have about how I found studying this course – for more information and more formal questions you can visit the Leeds University Departmental webpages.

M7.2 Earthquake Eastern Turkey

Yesterday a Magniude 7.2 earhquake struck eastern Turkey, close to the Iranian border. Latest reports suggest about 200 dead, with that figure expected to rise ove the coming days. Many more people are injured and homeless, with the BBC reporting tens of thousands sleeping oudoors in freezing conditions. The Guardian reports that one hospital was significantly damaged, which will no doubt add to what is already a difficult rescue and recovery operation. They also report the difficulties in reaching more rural communities where damage is also expected to be high.

It is difficult to assess at this stage what secondary impacts of the earthquake there will be, in terms of landslides, fires and other triggered phenomena. The vulnerability of the communities in the region is significantly greater than it was prior to the earthquake, and aftershocks and other hazards (cold weather being a notable one) could lead to what is already a vey bad situation becoming much worse.

A comprehensive summary of the technical aspects of the earthquake, including details of the magnitude, location and earthquake history of Turkey can be found on the USGS website. Turkey is particularly vulnerable to large earthquakes, with many large cities close to major geological fault lines. Further information, updates and analysis will be posted on this blog as and when more news is available.

Friday 21 October 2011

Friday Photo (5) - Spring Protection Schemes

A series of spring protection schemes, highlighting some of the good and bad aspects of construction:
TOP: Main spring is covered however there is poor drainage of surface water.
MIDDLE: Failure to cover the water means this is not really a spring 'protection' scheme. Poor drainage also.
BOTTOM: Main spring is covered and there is good drainage. This is a high quality construction.
(c) Geology for Global Development 2011

Wednesday 19 October 2011

GUEST BLOG: Rethinking Development in an Age of Scarcity and Uncertainty

Louisa Fearn is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Leeds where she is studying Environmental Geology. Below she reports on a recent conference she attended, sharing her insights as a geologist with a keen interest in international development.

"Last month I attended a conference on international development held at York University from 18th- 22nd September: ‘Rethinking Development in an Age of Scarcity and Uncertainty: New Values, Voices and Alliances for increased Resilience’ was jointly held by the DSA (Development Studies Association) and EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes).

The event, attended by 750 development academics and practitioners, was the largest gathering of its kind in 30 years. I worked in a team of 30 student volunteers that organised the running of the event, and in return could attend sessions fitting with my responsibilities.
Themes of the conference included climate change, migration, conflict, gender, research methods and governance. In addition there was a more discrete theme of lectures and working groups that all indirectly demonstrated the importance of geology as a discipline in international development. As a natural scientist, I was very much in the minority and one of the highlights was appreciating the differences between natural and social scientists and the challenges this creates when aiming for interdisciplinary work.

A few of the presentations focussed on the role of the extractive industry in development:
Constraints, Opportunities and Hope: Artisanal Gold Mining and Trade in South Kivu (DRC).Sara Geenen of University of Antwerp, Belgium. This was an excellent presentation, emphasising themes Joel brought up in an earlier post on the impacts of unregulated artisanal mining.

The Rhetoric and Reality of Transparency in Energy Governance: The Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and Publish What You Pay Campaign.James van Alstine, University of Leeds. I could not attend this lecture but have met James who researches and works in corporate responsibility, seeking to establish informal and formal (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) rules to govern the impacts of societal and environmental impacts of oil, gas and mining companies.

Another lecture considering the extractive industry was from
France Bourgouin, Danish Institute for International Studies:  Mining for Sustainable Development? What Role for Multinational Mining Corporations in Resource-Rich Developing Countries.’ Using a case study of gold mining in Tanzania, France discussed the role of Barrick Gold in the development of the nation.

Perhaps the lecture I found most interesting was from
Graham Davies of Colorado School of Mines in ‘Replicating Sachs and Warner’. A former metallurgical engineer now researching resource extraction and development, he discussed the possible reasons for poverty, ranging from the resource curse to geography, demographics and the potential for focussing on health and sanitation as a mechanism out of poverty.
I thoroughly enjoyed the event, and it gave plenty of scope for considering the role of a development specialist in geology, and indeed, the role of a geologist in global development."